Over the course of the last few days, 148 people have died in India due to flooding. Large parts of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh have been underwater due to untimely, torrential rains, with the country receiving the highest ever rainfall recorded in the last 25 years. The floods in UP and Bihar come on the heels of similar ones that ravaged parts of Kerala, Maharashtra and Karnataka in August, in a pattern that is getting repetitive over the years.
According to scientists, this trend is not an anomaly in India, but the ‘new normal’. And climate change, unplanned urban growth, and environmental degradation are responsible for it.
Yet, many leaders seem to be playing blind to these facts – blaming the inclement climate on everything from nakshatras to people’s sins.
Speaking to media, while Bihar Chief Minister blamed ‘nature’ for the situation in Bihar, Union Minister Ashwini Choubey went a step further and blamed “Hathiya Nakshatra” for the flood-like situation. When Kerala witnessed heavy flooding earlier this year, a pentecostal minister ascribed it to the ‘sins of the people of Kerala’.
In another era, we would have probably laughed off such incredulous claims. But today, as millions in the country suffer from the consequences of a disaster that’s as man-made as natural, we thought it essential to break down the real reasons for these disasters for our esteemed, ignoramus leaders. Read on, sires. This is useful information.
No, it’s not a constellation that caused the downpour in Bihar, Mr Choubey. The immediate reason for the dire situation in Bihar and UP is untimely and out of season rainfall. Ideally, the rains should have receded by now, but instead, we are on course for experiencing the wettest September in 102 years!
To be clear, India’s summer monsoon has always been unpredictable and has often precipitated floods. Lately, however, experts say that India is witnessing a new phase of erratic and more pronounced monsoons.
For example, when the monsoon season began this year, key parts of India witnessed extreme drought-like situation. In June, there was a 33% shortfall in rainfall, while in September, the average rainfall is already 48% above normal.
These changes can be ascribed to one phenomenon: Climate Change. An increasingly warming Arabian sea is drastically changing the monsoon cycle, and having an unprecedented impact on climatic conditions across the country. In a study published last year, scientists found that if the global mean temperature rises above 1.5 degrees, short bursts of heavy rainfall, as witnessed presently, are likely to increase by 20%
Extreme precipitation events are on the rise in large parts of India, according to research due to which India will increasingly witness droughts, followed by devastating rains in alternation.
This is where you need to take specific notice, Mr Politician. Because disastrous development practices followed by the government and unplanned urbanisation is one of the main reasons for things getting worse.
Take Kerala, for example. The unprecedented floods in Kerala were also linked to the rampant destruction in the Western Ghats, the biodiversity hotspot of the world – a move successive governments approved. The destruction of forest cover due to mining has triggered landslides in Kerala and Uttarakhand in the past.
The reckless construction over flood plains, wetlands and riverbeds – all approved by those in positions of power – has meant that the natural buffers against flooding no longer exist in many areas. In cities, where every part is being plastered over with cement, without adequate planning, the consequences are for all to see.
For example, in Patna, the government built flyovers and buildings indiscriminately, at the expense of the city’s critical wetlands – resulting in disastrous results.
Studies show that unplanned urbanisation increases the risk of flooding. With India set to add 416 million people to its urban population by 2050, sprawling Indian cities are now being built on wetlands and floodplains. The result – booming urbanisation due to a fast-growing population is resulting in more impervious areas, less infiltration, and hence greater flood peak and runoff.
I know it’s easy to blame the floods on a remote constellation, or an imaginary God. It’s definitely easier than acknowledging the mess that we are in or taking concrete steps.
But now that we have taken the pains to make you understand the issue, our advice to you would be just this: For God’s sake, just do your job.